Nurses First, Scholarships Follow for Alumnus-led Startup

Alvin Cortez ’08 (left) and Richard Manual (right) of Nurses First Solutions

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (June 22, 2017) – When long-time friends Alvin Cortez ’08 and Richard Manuel connected with the UCF Business Incubation Program to foster growth for their travel nurse staffing agency, they were asked a simple question: Why would somebody choose you rather than the company next to you?

They had a simple answer. They were in the business of making business personal.

Travel nurses typically work 13 week periods in one area, and move around the country depending on where they are needed. Nurses First Solutions provides those nurses to facilities in need of professional workforce. Manuel is a nurse. So is his wife. So is Cortez’s wife, Jessiccalou ’08 ’14BSN.

They knew about the job demands first-hand – the long hours, the life-saving work and the comfort that nurses provide to their patients. They also knew there were gaps in the industry, specifically for traveling nurses when it came to retirement plans, health care insurance, paid time off and life insurance.

So they decided to do something about it.

“We treat them like family,” Manuel said. “They won’t be treated like a number. They can call the company president and speak to him directly. It’s more transparent in our company.”

Echoed Cortez: “We wanted to give back, so we started the company – hence the name Nurses First.”

After incorporating in 2014, Cortez and Manuel hooked up with their third partner Ronnie Elliott and the UCF Business Incubation Program, which Cortez learned about when he studied interpersonal communication at UCF.

For nearly 20 years, the Incubation Program has been helping early-stage companies develop into financially stable, high-impact enterprises by providing resources and services that facilitate smarter, faster growth.

The duo credit site manager Carol Ann Dykes as the instrumental force that has pushed their business forward since joining the incubator. After they started at the incubator in April 2016, their company expanded from three employees to a dozen and their revenue grew from $300,000 to $6 million.

“It takes grit on our part, but at the same time it’s good to have guidance along the way,” Cortez said. “They hold us accountable to having a structure. If you have questions, they’ll connect you to the right types of people.”

All the while, they have remained steadfast in their mission to put nurses first. They offer competitive benefits, paid time off, life insurance and retirement plans. They also follow through on personal touches like sending flowers when their contracted nurses’ family members are sick or welcome boxes for new hires.

“People ask, does that eat up your profit? For us, it just makes sense,” Cortez said. “We’d rather give it back to the nurses. It’s ingrained in us to want to give back and do a little bit better for the people around us.”

They recently took that philosophy one step further by establishing the Nurses First Solutions Endowed Scholarship in April to support the undergraduate members of the Student Nurses Association within the College of Nursing.

Their office is located next to the College of Nursing, and after sponsoring some events, they became interested in setting up a scholarship. That interest turned into action after they attended a scholarship luncheon and heard directly from nursing students about how scholarships impacted their lives.

“We wanted to plant the seed for these students – there are resources, there are opportunities out there. They have a wide array of opportunity ahead of them if they are truly passionate about nursing,” Manuel said. “The scholarship puts more back into the community and students that want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Five Ways Philanthropy Impacted UCF This Year

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Image taken as part of the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group’s permitted research

1. Research
Thanks to donor support for more than three decades, UCF’s Marine Turtle Research Group has played an integral role in sea turtle recovery on Central Florida beaches. Last year, UCF’s section of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge – which was created in 1991 because of UCF research – counted a record 14,905 green turtle nests. In comparison, there were less than 50 nests when UCF first started monitoring the area in the early 1980s. And they are seeing growth in other turtle populations, too — this year saw 17,192 loggerhead nests (second highest since 1982) and 55 leatherback nests (highest since 1982).

History was made in July when UCF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement to establish a permanent conservation research facility along the Brevard County coastline. The new agreement allows UCF to build a new facility at the refuge that will not only protect research equipment and house workers overnight, but also foster collaborations with visiting scientists and international research partners.

UCF must raise $5 million within the next five years to construct the new buildings. Want to help? Here’s how.

2. Resources for Student-Athletes
In order to achieve their level of success on the field and in the classroom, UCF’s teams need a team of their own to support them. This year, several members of their team stepped up to the plate in a big way.

Thanks to John Euliano’s $1.5 million gift, the baseball team is on its way to having a state-of-the-art facility. This facility will not only benefit the student-athletes, coaches and fan experience, it will also provide an edge in recruiting.

Of equal importance for the student-athletes is ensuring a quality education. Northwestern Mutual worked with UCF Athletics to develop the Northwestern Mutual Everyday Champions Scholarship Program, which will fund three student-athletes’ scholarships per year over the next three years. In total, this will provide nearly $150,000 in student-athlete scholarship support.

3. Experience Learning
Students and faculty from UCF’s medical, nursing, physical therapy and social work schools provided free care to nearly 200 Apopka-area farmworkers back in July. The team’s philanthropic spirit fueled their mission, allowing UCF students to render care to people who really needed it while learning invaluable experience along the way. Faculty helped by outfitting the clinic’s facilities while the College of Medicine held a bake sale to pay for medication and food they provided to the farmworkers on the day of care.


It’s just one of the many service contributions that Knights participate in worldwide every year, allowing them to apply lessons learned in the classroom and simultaneously fulfilling one of the university’s primary missions: Impacting our society positively. Here are a couple more service learning programs at UCF funded by donations:
The Burnett Honors College
Knights Without Borders

4. Giving Lives Back
This year, alumnus Jim Rosengren ’81 gave a generous gift of $1 million to UCF RESTORES, allowing the PTSD clinic to have a fighting chance of keeping its doors open and continuing to treat veterans with uniquely effective techniques (and train new therapists in those techniques).

“After three weeks of treatment, 67 percent of veterans no longer have PTSD — and more importantly, at follow-up six months later, we haven’t seen them relapse,” said Deborah Beidel, a UCF Pegasus Professor of psychology who leads the UCF RESTORES clinic.

The $5 million Department of Defense grant that allowed Beidel to establish the clinic in 2011 only covers treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, not those from other conflicts. Nor does it allow Beidel and her colleagues to treat other groups, like first responders, who actually suffer from PTSD at a higher rate than the military.

To continue its mission and work, the clinic needs to rely on private philanthropy to fund the program’s annual costs. You can be the difference: Donate Now. (Be sure to click the designation drop down and select UCF RESTORES)

5. A New Partnership for Rosen, Arts and Humanities

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Gregory Elias, a Curacao-born lawyer and businessman, had never stepped foot on campus when he donated $5 million to establish the Gregory Elias Entertainment Management Program, a partnership between the Rosen College of Hospitality Management and College of Arts and Humanities.

Thanks to his generosity, nearly 200 students are pursuing an education they are passionate about, which aligns with Elias’ goals.

“It’s not about money, it’s about love,” he told them when he visited UCF for the first time in September. “If you don’t have the love for what you are doing, you cannot succeed and be happy.”

 

 

 

IGNITE Campaign Announced

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By UCF Today

ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 16, 2016) — Before a crowd of nearly 600 top donors, the University of Central Florida celebrated the public launch of a $500 million fundraising campaign on Sept. 16 supporting students, faculty members and special projects such as UCF Downtown.

The IGNITE campaign, the largest in UCF’s history, started in 2011 and seeks to reach the $500 million milestone by June 2019. More than 66,000 people have contributed $274.3 million to date, with much of the support coming from the generous benefactors invited to Friday’s gala.

“It shows an outpouring of support for the university that’s really going to help move us forward in the years ahead,” President John C. Hitt said. “I want to thank each of the donors very sincerely from my heart of hearts for their generosity.”

Philanthropy is critical to the university’s vitality and impact in the community. Investments in students, faculty and game-changing projects lift Central Florida’s economy – in everything from hospitality to medicine – and transform lives and families across our region.

The IGNITE campaign supports three priorities:

  • Student success, including scholarships, study abroad and career readiness
  • Academic excellence, including efforts to recruit and retain top faculty members
  • Special growth and opportunity projects

Gifts recognized at Friday’s gala include:

  • A $7 million gift from Dr. Phillips Charities for UCF Downtown increases total community support for the campus to $21 million. This means UCF can now access the $20 million in state funding to construct a new academic building for about 7,700 UCF and Valencia College students.
  • A $1 million gift from Jim Rosengren,’81, supports UCF RESTORES, a clinic directed by UCF psychology professor Deborah Beidel that successfully treats military veterans and active duty personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder – and provides that treatment for free. Rosengren is a disabled veteran who began his 23-year career as an Army medic, and his son served two tours in Iraq and returned home with PTSD.
  • Hundreds of engineering students will be able to use industry-standard product design and manufacturing software thanks to a major in-kind grant from Siemens. The software, with a commercial value of $68 million, is used in more than 140,000 global companies involved in the design and manufacturing of sophisticated products for energy and power generation, automotive, aerospace, machinery and high-tech electronics.
  • A $1 million gift from Glenn Hubbard, ’79, establishes the Kenneth White and James Xander Professorship in Economics. Hubbard is dean of the Columbia Business School, and he previously was an advisor to President George W. Bush and the Federal Reserve. He grew to love economics as a UCF student thanks to classes with White and Xander, two professors who inspired him.
  • A $5 million gift from Gregory Elias, a Curacao-born lawyer and businessman, establishes the Gregory Elias Entertainment Management Program, a partnership between the Rosen College of Hospitality Management and College of Arts and Humanities
  • A $1.5 million gift from John Euliano will help UCF expand and renovate the baseball stadium. A Winter Springs resident, Euliano has a family connection to UCF and a long-time love for baseball. The expansion will include a 300-seat premium club section that will include outdoor seating and an air-conditioned lounge.

The university also honored Orlando hotelier and philanthropist Harris Rosen for his lifetime of giving to UCF. In addition, Harris Corporation and Texas Instruments were recognized for their support for the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

The campaign chair is Rick Walsh, a 1977 graduate and former chair of the UCF Board of Trustees.